Just a year and half since their last studio offering All These Countless Nights and ten months on from the subsequent “reworked” version of this record, UK’s Deaf Havana have wasted no time in releasing 5th album Rituals.

Deaf Havana artwork for Rituals

From first glance Rituals appears to be a concept album of sorts, with its single word titles relating to religious symbolism and faith.

In part this is true; although overall the record carries more a theme of struggle and redemption. Rituals also marks a departure from the ‘tried and tested’ Deaf Havana song writing process – with front man James Veck-Gilodi beginning by writing on an acoustic guitar to culminating with input from the rest of the band. With Rituals, the song titles were decided first, and then the lyrics and music added afterwards.

In the build up to the record’s release, Deaf Havana dropped “Sinner” which immediately marked a shift towards a more pop-centric sound for the band. The track, as well as four others on the record, also features the London Contemporary Voice Choir.

“I’m so pathetic for ever thinking I’d change; when there are pieces of my past that I conveniently erased” laments Veck-Gilodi, spinning a tale of woe not unlike much of Deaf Havana’s previous material.

What makes “Sinners” different from its predecessors is the addition of aforementioned choir and the sneering, unapologetic chorus of “you can fall to your knees and pray, because I’m a sinner now”. As this track appears 2nd on Rituals it makes sense that this is the self-loathing that precedes the redemption, if the track listing represents the overall arc of reformation.

 

Following this is the title track, which paints a picture of both regret and realisation. Musically it actually sounds a lot closer to 80’s pop rock than the alternative/folk style that much of Deaf Havana’s previous three records have gone with. This theme continues with “Hell” which comes with an added sense of denial and defiance.
“Holy” is very much a 90s jam. The juxtaposition of bouncy pop hooks and dark lyrical themes surprisingly works very well. “Saviour” continues this idea and similarly is also a 90’s banger with more hook than a Peter Pan movie. Two tracks that absolutely belong on a live setlist.

I think we can all collectively agree that bands freshening up their sound throughout their career, for better or worse, is a welcome thing.

Recent promo shot of Deaf HavanaDeaf Havana have clearly made a very bold decision to do this, not only because it’s so soon after their last release but also from how well commercially their previous records have done. Both 2013’s Old Souls and 2017’s All These Countless Nights charted inside the top 10 in the UK mainstream charts.

“Pure” charts the beginning of positively entering into the story of Rituals, initially describing a feeling of drunken self-deprecation in the eyes of someone you love, but with perhaps a newfound motive of wanting to make a change. “Worship” is probably my favourite song on the record. Lyrically it reads like a parting message to an old flame, but the added wit of Veck-Gilodi and the massive pop chorus really turns this track into a different beast entirely. It’s simple but my word is it effective.

 

The timing of the release of Rituals may have been a surprise, but it isn’t compromised in terms of quality.

It’s crazy that such dark lyrical content is such a fun listen. I have nothing but respect for any band that gives a pop record a go – something that Deaf Havana have pulled off almost effortlessly. I for one am looking forward to how the new material sounds in a live environment, having only seen the band for the first time late last year. That set list was close to perfect for me, with some of my favourite Deaf Havana tracks such as “Seattle”, “Happiness” and “Hunstanton Pier” played one after the other. I was a mess.

It remains to be seen if Rituals will be a one off, or if Deaf Havana have enjoyed the challenge of a different song-writing perspective and opt to stick with it.

Live shot of Deaf Havana at a 2018 UK show

Often, in this short attention span mindset of a band being solely judged on their next release as opposed to their career as a whole, it can be difficult to know what the right choice is.

I’m confident now that Deaf Havana have shown enough creative nous to embrace whichever venture they choose to partake in next and produce something of equal or improved quality.

Rating: 4.5/5

David Dring

Freelance writer still stuck in the 90’s.
Favourite albums; Young Americans, Hours, Out From The Vein, In Utero.